People are complicated and flawed. Root for their better angels.
Too often, people classify someone’s competence or character in black and white terms. He’s brilliant or he’s an idiot. She’s got a heart of gold or she’s an asshole. He’s an ethical prince or a conniving win-at-all-costs hustler. It’s an unfortunate tendency. Expertise is always relative. Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future, as Oscar Wilde said. People are complicated.
Reid Hoffman is widely known as the ultimate connector. One of his underrated gifts is that he maintains very complicated portraits of the people he knows. He appreciates the full spectrum of strengths and weaknesses of a particular person. He’ll acknowledge a friend’s character flaw — say, self-centeredness — but also their unique strengths. Flaws that cause others to completely disengage are, for Reid, “navigable” en route to their better side.
Reid forgives mistakes in his friends. If you make a mistake (or three) or if a weakness of yours gets exposed – you’re not dead to him. It’s just another data point in a rich tapestry in a long-term relationship. He’ll rarely let a single failure or shortcoming overshadow your successes or noble aspirations. And he’ll always root for your better angels to prevail. It’s no wonder his friends are so loyal to him.
It’s a philosophy that reminds me of my late friend Seth Roberts, who promoted an “appreciative” approach to life. When evaluating someone, instead of starting with their weaknesses, first ask what’s uniquely excellent about them. When evaluating a study, first ask what we can learn from it, instead of jumping to a critique of the study’s flaws. Let an appreciative point of view imbue everything you do.
(1) Implications for managers: Try to place each person in a role where their strengths have the biggest impact and their weaknesses and flaws don’t matter.
(2) Then, you can celebrate your team’s strengths and be forgiving of people’s flaws.